SO what are we to make of that surge in support for Fianna Fail in the most recent Ipsos MRBI opinion poll, which puts the party in the top position at 26pc – ahead of Fine Gael and Labour? Given the poll was taken before the historic deal to reduce bank debt, the bad news for the Coalition parties may be short lived.
However, it would be foolish to ignore the shifts in public support away from the government parties and back toward Fianna Fail, no matter how transient. We all know that eaten bread is soon forgotten; gains in popularity for the Government, clocked up by the deal on the promissory note debt, will be gradually eclipsed by the reality that austerity must go on.
The Croke Park deal must be renegotiated despite no sign of compliance coming from the trade unions. The property tax demands will soon be hitting the postboxes of homeowners across the country – a stark reminder, if one were needed, that the government foot must stay on the pedal to stabilise the public finances.
So, the Government's challenge is to sustain a positive narrative, with sequential wins on key areas of policy, such as non-Anglo bank debt, inward investment and tackling youth unemployment.
The emigration figures are soaring to record levels. This exodus provides a safety valve against social unrest among young people. Out of sight is out of mind, but those left behind in the form of parents nurse a festering discontent.
Even those who opt to stay home on the live register constitute a cohort of distressed voters who will punish the government parties at the first opportunity. The next exposure to that collective anger will be the 2014 local elections.
So, like it or not, there will be a wind behind Fianna Fail and the other opposition parties and Independents in the run-up to the local elections.
After the historic mauling of Fianna Fail in 2011, losing 58 seats, from 78 down to 20, and a decimation of the party vote in Dublin, it is remarkable to see a recovery to the extent indicated by the poll last week. But those gains are fairly recent. The party spent over a year licking its wounds, hardly asking a question in the Dail of any import and generally lying low.
Gradually, TDs started to put their heads above the parapet, challenging the Government, at times brazenly, for example on the property tax. On the economy, however, Fianna Fail has been generally responsible for an opposition party, supporting efforts by the Government to restructure the debt and not playing the populist card on needed public service reforms and readjustments in public service pay.
Their spokesman on finance, Michael McGrath, is a polished and serious politician, who has earned the respect of observers and public alike. Leader Micheal Martin's job of rebuilding is not thankless. It looks like the votes "borrowed" from Fianna Fail in the last election are drifting back to the mother ship.
Loyalty to Fianna Fail, and indeed Fine Gael, has more to do with genetics and tradition than policy. People are born Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, rather like a blood group.
My former party and other smaller groups like the Greens cannot rely on such unconditional support. I recall a Fianna Fail supporter declaring to me on the doorstep, as I canvassed him, that if he was "boiled in oil, he would still vote Fianna Fail". That degree of devotion to the party is still there, waiting for permission to return.
Indeed, it was always a mystery to me how the Fianna Fail vote held up, even when set against a trail of crimes and misdemeanours by key party figures.
This was most remarkable in the 2007 election, which returned Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern to Government despite serious questions about financial probity emerging from the tribunal. It actually took the collapse of the banks and related economic catastrophe to drive Fianna Fail out of office.
The Sinn Fein support at 18pc is a sizeable vote for a party so recently on the mainstream political stage.
The Independents' vote is up to 20pc, which may be due to a few high-profile performers on the banking crisis. But Fianna Fail is well placed to hoover up much of the 30pc undecided and to win back its short-term exiles.
Apparently new blood is flowing into the party. This is probably down to the candidate opportunities provided by the culling of the old guard in the last election, many of whom will not re-enter the fray.
As for Labour, with the poll showing its vote being halved since the election, it could turn into a kamikaze run in the national interest.
Take it from an old hand, smaller parties in coalitions always get short shrift.